WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday lobbied again for an intelligence law allowing government eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails, as the tone of the dispute between the White House and Congress over terrorist surveillance grew increasingly sharp.
"To put it bluntly, if the enemy is calling into America, we really need to know what they're saying, and we need to know what they're thinking, and we need to know who they're talking to," Bush said at the start of his annual meeting with the nation's governors at the White House.
"This is a different kind of struggle than we've ever faced before. It's essential that we understand the mentality of these killers," Bush said.
The law in question targets foreign terrorist threats and allows eavesdropping on communications involving people in the U.S., so long as those people are not the intended focus or target of the surveillance. The latest version of the legislation expired on Feb. 16, and the rules reverted to those outlined in the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Bush and Congress are at odds over whether to give legal immunity to companies that in the past helped the government spy on customers without court warrants.
Bush wants the House to act on legislation the Senate has passed. That bill provides retroactive protection for telecommunications companies that wiretapped U.S. phone and computer lines at the government's request after the Sept. 11, 2001 terroris of the phrase "scare tactics" must "be like one of their favorite words — it must poll very well, because they use it almost every time. What we have done is state facts."
The Justice Department and Office of National Intelligence said Saturday that telecommunication companies are now complying with existing surveillance warrants. The agencies also said that new surveillance activities under existing warrants will resume "for now," but that the delay "impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information."
Bush says flatly that telecommunications companies won't help the government if they don't have protection from lawsuits, and that he will not compromise with Democrats on that point.